Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing indictment on charges of fraud, corruption, breach of trust and bribery. He’s also running for re-election, and with less than six weeks until ballots are scheduled to be cast in Israel, some have raised suspicions of a political hit, not unlike the various hearings and investigations ensnaring President Trump.
From a geostrategic standpoint, there is no one, including Netanyahu’s political opponents, in the prime minister’s league when it comes to national security, economics and politics. In this, again, he in some ways resembles President Trump.
Recall Netanyahu’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly last September in which he conducted a “show and tell” drama with pictures of a secret Iranian nuclear facility, as well as hidden missiles in Beirut. The speech was an indictment of the West’s wishful thinking when it comes to Iran, the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration and the intentions of radical Muslim terrorists.
As David M. Weinberg wrote in The Jerusalem Post in 2017, “An overwhelming majority of Israelis ascribes the last decade of stability and triumph to Netanyahu’s leadership. He may not be the ultimate paragon of virtue – what politician is? But his prudence and professionalism have best served Israel’s strategic needs.”
Compared to the survival of Israel, the charges brought against Netanyahu are small potatoes.
Which brings me to President Trump. Those who criticize Trump supporters, including his evangelical Christian base, say the standard they applied to President Clinton and his behavior has been abandoned when it comes to Trump. These critics say the economy was also good under Clinton – one argument Trump supporters say is in the current president’s favor – but that he received no credit from those who claimed then that personal character matters most.
All true, but what about a president’s policies? Should they matter more? President Clinton named justices to the Supreme Court and lower courts who are liberal interpreters of the Constitution and who uphold abortion rights. He also raised taxes, though he and then-Speaker Newt Gingrich did agree on welfare reform.
The question becomes: Which would you choose – questionable character or appealing policies?
Yes, conservatives and evangelicals would prefer a church-going, once-married, faithful politician like Vice President Mike Pence, but if the choice is between socialism and capitalism, between conservative and liberal judges, between more abortions or fewer, between redefining marriage and defending its once legal – even biblical – definition, between a strong economy and a weaker one, between record low unemployment and higher numbers of the unemployed, between open borders and controlling illegal immigration, the choice isn’t that difficult.
A look at history reveals some pretty bad characters whose policies were well regarded. As Britishheritage.com notes, “Winston Churchill was a strong and bullish leader. His leadership during WWII is remembered very fondly. … Many, however, deem Churchill culpable in a plethora of human rights violations, and question his views toward races different to his own.”
Benjamin Franklin was no paragon of virtue, but his assistance in founding America, along with his inventions, are highly regarded by historians. The same is true for Thomas Jefferson and other founders who owned slaves.
In modern times, John F. Kennedy was a notorious adulterer, but is credited with establishing the Peace Corps and launching America to the moon. His successor, Lyndon Johnson, fought for civil rights and open housing laws, but, according to his biographer, Robert Caro, used racist language in private.
The point is not to excuse bad behavior in leadership, but to examine (leaders’) policies to see if they promote the general welfare. In the cases on Netanyahu and Trump, they have. Whether those policies overcome whatever personal flaws these men have will be up to Israel’s legal system and voters next month, and the U.S. legal system and voters next year.
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